Jerome K. Jerome (on love and time)

My bride and I don’t think of ourselves as old. (Well, not old old.) I run around with athletic teens and 20-somethings, and that can make me feel a tad creaky and lardaceous by comparison, but still. We did celebrate (and celebrate) a significant anniversary last month, which compels us to accept that, while we can still find some giddy in our good coupling luck, we’re not exactly newlyweds. We felt like it at certain August moments, which for me was like dozens of non-fattening banana splits in one hand-delivered magic box.

Days back, during my ongoing organizing and an attempted material purge, I ran across the quote below from writer Jerome K. Jerome. I had long ago photocopied it (and its accompanying sentimental snapshot of an elderly couple) from somewhere onto coloured sheets of paper I used to use for something that we dinosaurs used to call “letter writing”. I have a whole stack of them. It makes me want to write letters to people! (Confession: I even have stamps.) With a little new-fashioned research, I easily found that Jerome’s comments on love and marriage – I hadn’t known the source – came from an early 20th-century play of his.

It’s the sort of play whose subtitle has a subtitle, whose dramatis personae includes “Mrs. Sharpe”, “Miss Kite”, “Mrs. Tompkins”, and The Major (“Troublesome creatures, these girls! Troublesome creatures!”). There is a mysterious Stranger, who quickly becomes everyone’s confidante. A young man is described as a “cheerful bounder” – now there’s a word we’ve lost, if we ever really had it in the Colonies – and another is said to speak with “gallant jauntiness”. (Jaunty! Don’t you think we should be, in general, more — and more frequently — jaunty?)

Enough preamble to the prologue:

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September FIRST. What’s It To You?

Top o’ the evenin’, friends. (All slip and slope from here.)

Here were the many bits of sparkle and significance of an apparently random Tuesday in the life of a meaning-masher (me), trying to understand where one slightly eccentric but on the whole rather typical guy (also me) was coming from.

(NOTE: I am aware of autumnal equinoxes and Officially Falls, but summer was over and I heard the school bells ring. September First is a Time of Change.)

Once a teacher, always one, and always for me has the first of September been a wistful but galvanizing passage. The anxiety dreams were, and are still, in full swing. (Can I still do this? Even if I don’t actually do it anymore? Luckily, performance worries are easily transferrable.) It was, once again, time to get ready.

September 1 marked Cycle 39, Phase IV, Action Plan 13(b) of my eternal Get Organized! campaign. Those shelves? Downstairs. Clear that desk. These books go here and there. (Some may even be released into the wild.) Several priorities are in the shop for rearrangement. So much STUFF. And what do I do with cassette tapes of radio recordings and The Talking Heads? A coil-bound series of musty journals? My files from a teaching career that shows hopeful signs of being defunct? Major conundrums. Serious biz, no doubt, but I waded in and felt enlivened and resolute (with a hot ‘n’ sour side of rueful fatalism).

Speaking of fate and rue: 9-1 was mumblety-seven years and a few odd days past a coulda shoulda wouldabin wedding anniversary, would’ve been a quietly joyful reconnaissance of things past if the lights hadn’t gone out that dreadful year. Instead: “Yup. That happened. We started off so well, I thought.”

On the other hand,

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Edith Hamilton (Weston) Main

The picture I remember best is an old black-and-white that I only saw a couple of times. Her hair is long and loose, her smile carelessly radiant, and her eyes draw one’s gaze again and again. She’s young, and she’s gorgeous, and it surprised a teenaged me to see the middle-aged, slightly doughy housewife – the one who had so lovingly welcomed, guided, and cared for me – looking so confident and free. I had known her as a quiet, self-effacing baker of cherry cheesecake and dispenser of tea, but here she looked like a screen star. This was my future mother-in-law, likely at about the age of her daughter when I married her. She was Edith, “Mother Main” (and not just to me), but I mostly called her Mum. I still do, though it’s been years since I’ve seen her.

The other photo comes 50 years later, I guess. It is more formal, a rather conventional studio shot that can’t hide her silvered, warm-eyed beauty. She is again slender, and her quiet dignity is clear. By this time, she was my ex-mother-in-law, marital fortunes being what they are in these times and in this heart. I was grateful when that same daughter, re-married, as I am, emailed from afar to let me know that Edith was preparing for take-off. She had turned 89 weeks before, and her life had become a smaller and smaller thing. She hung on for another week, and last Wednesday flight confirmation arrived. Friday’s funeral was not a tragic one.

Except that for me, it partly was.

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Chesterton (again, on monogamy)

“[Syme had a] sense of a new comradeship and comfort. Through all this ordeal, his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy.”

G.K. Chesterton, from the novel The Man Who Was Thursday.
A somewhat backhanded tribute to marriage, but a sincere and unromanticized one.